Top Nasa official says Blue Origin lawsuit could further delay crewed mission to Moon

Bezos’ company argues that Nasa’s decision to award SpaceX the moon lander contract was ‘arbitrary’ and ‘irrational’

Vishwam Sankaran
Thursday 23 September 2021 12:03
<p>Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson when he attended Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirmation hearing in April</p>

Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson when he attended Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirmation hearing in April

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Lawsuit filed by Jeff BezosBlue Origin against SpaceX and the US government may further delay Nasa’s crewed Moon mission, Nasa administrator Bill Nelson has reportedly said.

Blue Origin had filed the lawsuit against Nasa and SpaceX over the US space agency awarding a lucrative $3 billion contract to build a lunar rover to Elon Musk-founded SpaceX.

Bezos’ company argues in the lawsuit that Nasa’s decision to award SpaceX the contract violates “fundamental tenets” of government-contract procurement law.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Mr Nelson said the lawsuit may delay Nasa’s plans to put humans on the Moon as part of the Artemis lunar programme, planned for 2024, Insider reported.

Nasa’s plan is to use its Orion spacecraft to send four astronauts on a multi-day journey to the lunar orbit from which two crew members would transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon.

“After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth,” the US space agency noted in a statement in April.

But on Tuesday when asked if the mission to land humans on the Moon was still on track for a 2024 launch, Mr Nelson reportedly said the question could be better answered only after a federal court ruling, hinting that the lawsuit is expected to cause delays.

With the lawsuit yet to be resolved, SpaceX cannot proceed with developing the lander for the mission, and NASA has also agreed to pause work on the HLS till the litigation is heard in court.

In the lawsuit, Blue Origin claims that NASA has disregarded key flight safety requirements while awarding the contract to SpaceX.

In a redacted version of the lawsuit shared by the US Court of Federal Appeals on Wednesday, Bezos’ company argues that Nasa’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious, and irrational.”

“NASA inexplicably disregarded key flight safety requirements for only SpaceX, in order to select and make award to a SpaceX proposal that Nasa’s evaluation team assessed as tremendously high risk and immensely complex, even before the waiver of safety requirements,” the lawsuit alleges.

Mr Nelson said on Tuesday that only after the federal judge makes the decision and after “further legal possibilities” are considered there can be clarity about the crewed-missions to the lunar surface.

Irrespective of the lawsuit, a Nasa Office of the Inspector General, noted in a report last month that it’s “not feasible” for the space agency to meet its 2024 goal.

This delay is mainly due to delays in the development of next-generation spacesuits for the astronauts.

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